People in their late teens and early 20s should contact their GP to ensure they are immunised against mumps after a significant increase in the number of cases of the illness among adults in Northern Ireland.
So far this year there have been 354 reported cases of mumps among children and adults compared to 75 cases for the same period in 2008.
Mumps is caused by a contagious virus which is transmitted through airborne droplets from the coughs and sneezes of infected people. It takes between 14 and 21 days for the symptoms of mumps to develop.
Mumps is normally a mild illness, but in a minority of cases there can be severe complications, such as deafness and meningitis.
Dr Liz Mitchell, acting chief medical officer, said: “What can happen in some cases is you can get complications, but in adult males the thing most people know about is swelling of the testes that can be painful and uncomfortable.”
The Public Health Agency has recommended that anyone who is worried about their susceptibility to mumps is to contact their doctor to check how many MMR vaccinations they have received.
Dr Lorraine Doherty, assistant director of health protection with the agency, said: “Cases of mumps have increased in Northern Ireland in 2009, including in those aged between 19 and 21 years. A similar situation exists in other parts of the UK and Ireland.
“Most cases of mumps occur in those who have not had two doses of a mumps-containing vaccine (MMR).
“In the case of those aged between 19 and 21 years, some may not have had two doses of a mumps-containing vaccine because they may have been immunised with a non-mumps -containing vaccine (MR) prior to the introduction of MMR vaccine into the routine childhood immunisation schedule.”